Obesity in Pets: Tips for a Healthy Life

Pet Health and Safety  •  Pam Karkow  •  Friday, March 19, 2021

On a Saturday morning, after treating my family to eggs, bacon, and biscuits, my son asked me to help him with something in the garage. I checked to make sure any leftovers were pushed back from the edge of the counter so my counter-surfing dog would not help herself to them and followed my son outside. What I did not account for was that my dog also investigates the sink as soon as her humans are out of sight. I came back inside to find her in our living room, licking the inside of the can of bacon grease that I had left unguarded. Seriously, who would have thought she could lift it out of the sink, let alone carry it into the living room without spilling a single drop and then polish it off? The good news is, she did not have any immediate ill-effects from the grease. The bad news? All that grease is not good for her body in the long term! And, unfortunately, this is not the first time she has gotten into leftovers. 

Manage your pet's weight

So, what’s a pet parent to do? Know your dog (or cat). Plenty of pets are not curious enough (or not big enough) to counter surf, but if yours is and is as food-driven as ours, it is important to safeguard your pet against their tendencies to consume extra calories. According to Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM, our pets are living longer than ever, but they are also heavier than ever. And not every pet is gaining weight on its own accord. Extra treats, overfeeding, and lack of exercise are a few of the other culprits adding to the obesity trend among pets. 

Why is obesity so dangerous?

  1. Leads to disease. Arthritis (joint disease), diabetes, and certain cancers can all be traced to obesity. Extra weight puts stress on your pet’s joints. Even one or two extra pounds can stress tiny joints not designed to carry extra weight, particularly in cats. Once your pet has developed arthritis, there is no cure, only management of the pain. Carrying extra weight also increases our cats’ likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, and dogs’ risk of insulin resistance. See our post, Diabetes in Pets for more. Not only does diabetes require daily insulin injections and/or medications, but it also decreases life expectancy. Obesity and inactivity account for 25-30% of major cancers in humans, and researchers believe this statistic is also true for pets. 
  2. Can cause high blood pressure. Known as the “silent killer,” because there are often no signs until it is too late, high blood pressure is easy to diagnose and can be treated by changing your pet’s diet to a low-sodium option, increasing exercise, and in serious cases, medication. If your pet has gained a few pounds recently, have him tested to rule out high blood pressure or to start a treatment plan if hypertension is the cause of the weight gain.
  3. Decreases life expectancy. If all of the above is not enough to convince you of the dangers of obesity, then the results from a 1999 longevity study of dogs will. Researchers found that dogs who were fed 25% less than normal not only lived longer, but weighed less, had lower body fat content, insulin, and glucose concentrations. There was also less chronic disease in the dogs who consumed fewer calories. If that’s not a reason to check your portion control, I do not know what is!

How can I avoid the risks associated with pet obesity?

  1. Exercise! Not only does exercise improve mood, but it can also lower cortisol levels and maintain weight (for you and your beloved pooch!). Studies have shown that pet owners get more exercise than people without pets. And on March 30, you can celebrate the benefits of exercise by participating in Walk in the Park Day. Get outside and enjoy the beautiful transition of winter to spring while you exercise your pet! See our post, Four Reasons to Get Outside and Walk, for more on the benefits of exercising with your pet.
  2. Feed your pet appropriately. Establish regular feeding times and portions. In our house, one person is designated to feed our dog her breakfast, and one person feeds her dinner. It is always the same, every day. She knows what to expect and doesn’t get extra meals. We do not feed her any leftovers, except the occasional veggies, so she is consuming the same number of calories each day. If we do give our dog a treat, like a doggie cupcake for her birthday, it is for a special occasion, so that treat remains a “sometimes food,” instead of the norm. See our post, National Pet Obesity Day for tips on helping your dog or cat maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Make and keep regular vet visits. It is no secret that the best way to manage illness is early detection. When you commit to a yearly vet check-up, your pet’s doctor gets to know your pet’s “normal” and can diagnose problems early, which leads to a better outcome. Vet visits consist of a physical exam to check your dog’s skin, eyes, ears, and teeth. Depending on your dog’s age and medical history, he may be due for vaccinations as well.  
  4. Invest in pet insurance! PetPartners Defender and DefenderPlus wellness plans provide coverage for recurring expenses like flea and tick preventatives, diagnostic examinations, and vaccinations. Certain dogs are genetically inclined to conditions like heart disease, arthritis, and hip or elbow dysplasia. Selecting a policy with HereditaryPlus coverage can ease a pet parent’s financial burden and help dramatically improve their pet’s standard of living. These costs add up quickly and a policyholder can save significantly throughout their dog or cat’s lifetime. 

Are you ready for Walk in the Park Day? Use this upcoming unofficial holiday to jumpstart your exercise regimen this spring. Your pets (and your body) will thank you!

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